North American Scholar

O'NEILL, Eugene Gladstone, Jr.

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  • Date of Birth: 1910-05-06
  • Born City: New York
  • Born State/Country: NY
  • Parents: Eugene Gladstone, playwright, & Kathleen Jenkins O'N.
  • Date of Death: 1950-09-25
  • Death City: Woodstock
  • Death State/Country: NY
  • Married: Elizabeth Green, 15 June 1931; Jane Hunter Longley.
  • Education:

    A.B. Yale, 1932; Berkeley Schol., 1933-6; Ph.D., 1936.

  • Dissertation:

    "Metrical Studies in the Distribution of Individual Words in Homer and Aratus" (Yale, 1936).

  • Professional Experience:

    Instr. class. Yale, 1936-43; lctr. Princeton, 1945-6; lctr. Fairleigh Dickinson Coll. & New School for Soc. Res., 1948-50.

  • Publications:

    The Complete Greek Drama, with Whitney J. Oates, 2 vols. (New York, 1938); "The Importance of Final Syllables in Greek Verse," TAPA 70 (1939) 256-94; "Word-Accents and Final Syllables in Latin Verse," TAPA 71 (1940) 335-59; "The Prologue of the Troades of Euripides," TAPA 72 (1941) 288-320; "Note on Phrynichus' Phoenissae and Aeschylus' Persae," CP 37 (1942) 425-7; Seven Famous Greek Plays, ed. with Whitney J. Oates (New York, 1950).

  • Notes:

    When O'Neill was two years old, his parents divorced and it was not until the age of 12 that he knew who his father was, nor even his real name. Shortly after meeting his father in 1922, he took his name and retained friendly relations with him throughout his schooldays. O'Neill was a brilliant student at Yale and his knowledge of classics inspired his father's play Mourning Becomes Electra, in which he tries to blend classical mythology with modern drama. By one account, he also convinced his father that he should not to delay publication of A Long Day's Journey into Night for fear the play might damage his son's career at Yale. Nevertheless relations deteriorated after the son received his Ph.D. and his father complained that he was "too erudite." His articles on metrics in particular are models of precision and statistical compilation, and all his publications are marked by a critical acumen and wide learning that promised a great career. Although he left Yale to join the war effort, he was turned down by every branch of the service, perhaps for physical reasons, perhaps because he had for a short time belonged to the Communist Party. He spent the remainder of the war working in a cable factory. After the war, his collaborator Whitney Oates, chair of the department at Princeton, arranged a lectureship for him that lasted only two terms before he was let go. He became interested in mass communications and education and worked as a television and radio commentator but was fired from this job as well following a disastrous interview with the actor Adolphe Menjou. He took more and more to drink as his life began to crumble, and after leaving a note beside an empty bottle of bourbon that read "Never let it be said of O'Neill that he failed to empty a bottle. Ave atque vale," slit his wrists and ankles in a tub, Seneca-style.

  • Sources:

    Doris Alexander, The Tempering of Eugene O'Neill (New York, 1942); Crosswell Bowen, The Curse of the Misbegotten: A Tale of the House of O'Neill (New York, 1959); Arthur and Barbara Gelb, O'Neill, rev. ed. (New York, 1973); Louis Sheaffer, O'Neill: Son and Artist (Boston, 1973).

  • Author: Ward W. Briggs, Jr.